Just four years out of law school, John “Jack” Mecone is assistant general counsel at the iconic global shoe retailer Clarks. He scored the job just a few months after graduating from Suffolk University Law School in 2009, having previously interned at the Newton-based Americas division of Clarks with the hope of gaining corporate counsel experience.
Today, Mecone he is one of three lawyers in the division’s legal department, where he handles ecommerce, marketing, social media and sales matters, and he’s recently delved into international law as the company expands into Canada, South America and Latin America.
Mecone talked to New England In-House’s Julie McMahon about his role at Clarks.
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Q. When did you know you wanted to work in-house and not at a law firm?
A. I really knew it all along. Academically, I was always business-focused. In undergrad, I studied finance. In law school, I took every business law class I could. I’m in business school now. It was always business for me. I was focused on working in a corporation when I left law school. I didn’t feel that the law firm route was for me. As I got further into law school, it struck me more or less that I wanted to be a generalist and be able to work on all different matters. There was a lot of “you can’t go in-house after law school” talk. It’s definitely not the norm, but it’s not impossible.
Q. Do you think law school prepared you for working in-house?
A. It’s tough to say because it gives you the general foundation, obviously, but really it doesn’t prepare you much for the practical day-to-day, and I think that’s why corporations don’t hire a lot out of law school. They feel like you don’t have that training. But I was fortunate that my boss was really hands-on with me from the beginning. There was a lot of self-teaching involved, but she was really great about keeping me up to speed. I think that is an area where law school lacks — in the practical training.
Q. What advice would you give a law student or recent graduate seeking a corporate counsel job?
A. I would say number one is get as much internship experience as possible. That’s the best way to learn the practical side of it. Take contract drafting classes or things of that nature. They are great because working in-house you’re dealing with contracts all the time.
Q. What attracted you to this company and this industry?
A. We’re sourcing goods from all over the world. We’re manufacturing in China, Vietnam, all different countries. That aspect of it really interests me. Also, working in a consumer-goods retail company is fun. I work a lot with marketing and social media, so I get to work with the consumer-facing side a lot. It’s great to see the other side of the business, the creative folks and what they are coming up with.
Q. Do you get deals on shoes?
A. I have way more shoes than any man should. … I’m also the sample size so I get a lot of kickbacks. I have too many at this point; it’s gotten out of hand. That’s part of what makes it a neat industry, because you can go to the store and see things you’ve been working on and marketing. Or even when you see them on people’s feet or you talk to people and they love them.
Q. On the flip side, what’s the most difficult part of the job?
A. I work in a really lean department. There are only three of us in the Americas. The office I work in in Newton handles U.S. and Canada, and we’re expanding into South America and Latin America. We’re doing a lot up in Canada. I really enjoy those projects. Right now we just have a wholesale presence up there, but we’re expanding on a retail basis. I don’t work with outside counsel too much, but for our Canada projects I do because I don’t have the expertise. It’s fairly similar to the U.S., except when you get involved in Quebec it’s a whole different ballgame. There are so many different issues when you’re hiring a workforce, entering into real estate contracts.
Q. How does your department decide what work goes to outside counsel?
A. I don’t deal too much with that personally, but typically we consult firms when there is a need for expertise on an area that is really comprehensive. For me, that means privacy matters regarding consumers. I always go outside because it’s an area that requires such expertise, and a lot of bad things can happen if you don’t do it right. All of our outside counsel relationships are very longstanding. They precede me, they precede my boss. They have been there for 20 years. We have worked with a new firm over the last few years. Selecting them was really based on word of mouth, reputation, connections.
Q. Do you have a pet peeve when it comes to working with outside counsel?
A. There are times it’s difficult when you don’t get a straight answer. … I’ve had good experiences with firms being responsive. We work with one firm in Canada, three from the U.S. and one in Puerto Rico. You learn that cultures work at a different pace. In Puerto Rico, for example, things are much slower paced.
Q. Where do you see yourself in the future? Do you ever want to work at a law firm?
A. I don’t. I’m really on a business track. I think in-house fits me really well, either in-house or working for a corporation in a different capacity. I think a lot of times an in-house attorney will get involved in the business side to the point where their career sometimes goes down a different path. There are temptations to working in a firm. You get great training, there are financial incentives, and it’s a lot more of a clearly defined career path. Sometimes when you’re in-house, you don’t really know where exactly it’s going. But I’m enjoying what I’m doing right now.
Q. Do you think that being a younger lawyer, especially when it comes to social media and technology, has benefitted your department?
A. Absolutely — just [in terms of] staying connected and the tools that I use day to day. I really think being a younger attorney and working in these areas — they resonate with me. And my boss would rather stay outside of some of those areas.
Q. Can other new lawyers add value to legal departments in the same way?
A. I think so. I go to a lot of [Association of Corporate Counsel] events, and I do notice more younger attorneys being hired in-house. Social media and ecommerce are great areas for a younger attorney to get involved with. … A lot of companies are starting training programs for younger attorneys. It’s something you are starting to see more and more of.
Q. How do your hours and job satisfaction compare with that of your law school classmates?
A. Yeah, the hours are better. A lot of my classmates work in law firms and it’s so incredibly different. … I think a big difference is that when I’m involved in something, it’s from start to finish. I’m handling the entire project, all aspects of it. I don’t know that you get all of that being in a law firm. There are some advantages to being in a law firm, but it’s very different.